The MDC, Neoliberalism and the challenges of post-colonial change

From its inception the MDC was characterised by a commitment to liberal political and economic values. Formed in the aftermath of the fall of ‘existing socialist’ states in Eastern Europe in 1989/90, the MDC was part of the ‘second wave’ of democratic struggles that broke out in African post colonial states in the 1990’s against authoritarian regimes. Developed out of the struggles for constitutionalism, labour rights and democratisation, the language of the MDC eagerly sought to differentiate itself from the exclusive and authoritarian assertions of Zanu PF’s nationalism.

The Politics of the MDC

Born out of a broad array of civic struggles a central part of the MDC was its location in civil society and its fight for a politics of human and civic rights, and a broad, racial and ethnic inclusiveness. Confronted with the violent and selective nationalism of the ruling party that continuously excluded different sections of the populations from ‘belonging’ to the nation, the MDC projected itself as a party of tolerance, peaceful constitutional struggles and broad democratic values. In bringing together a broad alliance of forces to confront the Mugabe, including support from the Western countries, the liberal social democratic message of the MDC was quickly cast as a foreign creation of ‘imperialism’ and the party labeled ‘puppets’ of the West. In the words of one of the early characterizations of the MDC by a Zanu PF mouth-piece:

The MDC has teamed up with ex-Rhodesians, local racist whites and western governments to try to reverse the gains and return Zimbabwe into colonial bondage. These sellouts in MDC would like to ensure that land and all other economic resources remain in the hands of the white minority. Their sole aim is to prevent blacks from reaping the economic rewards of their hard won independence.

This racialised language of “sellouts” and “stooges”, widely disseminated through the state controlled media, poisoned the political environment in the country, and led to a politics of intolerance and repression that threatened the liberal pluralist project of the MDC. Even as the MDC and the civic movement demanded the opening of political and civic spaces, greater media freedom, judicial independence and the rule of law, and a broad project for the opening up of the public sphere, Zanu PF was determined to close down such spaces and to demean the politics of tolerance as an outside creation.

Moreover the opposition in Zimbabwe found little solace amongst states in SADC and the AU, as Mugabe’s message of ‘colonial redress’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ found a resonance on the continent, for a long time relegating the human rights abuses of the Mugabe regime to the margins. Thus the Zimbabwean political and civic opposition had to confront the powerful discourse of colonial redress on the continent, with a language of human rights that was quickly associated with Western strategic interests and disarticulated from the indigenous roots of these struggles. This was an enormous challenge for the democratic forces in Zimbabwe, and it took many years of lobbying, electoral gains, political struggles on the ground, and pressure from the West, for the massive abuses of the Mugabe regime to begin to register amongst African states. However this issue remains one of the central obstacles to post-colonial change.

The MDC, Neoliberalism and the challenges of post-colonial change
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Wed, March 17 2010 » Global Political Agreement, History

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